Kristin’s Top 5 Recommended Reads of 2021

I think 2021 was a good year for me in books. I read 55 books, although my initial goal was 60. I had to lower it because… well… life. With that said I find that a trend took place. You’d think in years where sad things take over our news with Covid, death, war, elections, etc. that I would like to read happy stories. Apparently that is untrue.

All of my books for 2021 that I rated in my top 10 were either mystery/thriller or Historical Fiction, which is not always the happiest of books. Those were the ones that jumped out at me and man, there were some amazing books. If I had to pick one that was my favorite of the year, it would be Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica. Such a good book. I am actually interested in listening to the audiobook to see if the voices I created in my head match that of the voice actors for the books. Also… when will this be made into a movie? The other mystery/thrillers I read were very twisty, a lot of psychological drama, and really unique. That was important. And of course, my annual Lisa Gardner book. Her books are phenomenal and ALWAYS make my top books of the year.

The other half of my reads were Historical Fiction. I love a good World War II story. They are my go to in historical fiction and I always enjoy them. I love the ones that tell a story about the good side; the ones that are fighting to help those be locked up or taken against their will. I love a good hero story and a good survival story. My favorite historical fiction in my top ten is probably The Auschwitz Photographer, which is based on the life of Wilhelm Brasse, a real life auschwitz prisoner who was a political prisoner and photographer. Therefore he was assigned to take photos of all the prisoners, experiments, etc. It was a fascinating story and the things he did are the reason we have documented proof of some of the things that went down. There were also stories of woman who went above and beyond what women were really allowed to do back then and helped us win that war.

So while my books weren’t exactly happy, they were filled with intense, interesting stories and characters worthy of praise and recognition. I hope 2022 readings are equally as good. Check back next year to find out what I think. Until then, here are my top 10 favorites books of 2021.

The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan

Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found after two weeks, but the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the medical examiner’s, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.

Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle. He just isn’t sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace’s last hours. Then he encourages listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer Regan Merritt, a former US marshal, to come on and share her expertise.

New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace’s secret life, a much darker picture than Lucas imagined–and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own secret. The pressure is on to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast–before the killer silences him forever.

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Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner

Frankie Elkin is an average middle-aged woman, a recovering alcoholic with more regrets than belongings. But she spends her life doing what no one else will–searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for. When the police have given up, when the public no longer remembers, when the media has never paid attention, Frankie starts looking.

A new case brings her to Mattapan, a Boston neighborhood with a rough reputation. She is searching for Angelique Badeau, a Haitian teenager who vanished from her high school months earlier. Resistance from the Boston PD and the victim’s wary family tells Frankie she’s on her own–and she soon learns she’s asking questions someone doesn’t want answered. But Frankie will stop at nothing to discover the truth, even if it means the next person to go missing could be her.

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Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.

Now, 11 years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find….

In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times best-selling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

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Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

Meet Chloe Sevre. She’s a freshman honor student, a leggings-wearing hot girl next door, who also happens to be a psychopath. Her hobbies include yogalates, frat parties, and plotting to kill Will Bachman, a childhood friend who grievously wronged her.

Chloe is one of seven students at her DC-based college who are part of an unusual clinical study for psychopaths—students like herself who lack empathy and can’t comprehend emotions like fear or guilt. The study, led by a renowned psychologist, requires them to wear smart watches that track their moods and movements.

When one of the students in the study is found murdered in the psychology building, a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins, and Chloe goes from hunter to prey. As she races to identify the killer and put her own plan into action, she’ll be forced to decide if she can trust any of her fellow psychopaths—and everybody knows you should never trust a psychopath.

Never Saw Me Coming is a compulsive, voice-driven thriller by an exciting new voice in fiction, that will keep you pinned to the page and rooting for a would-be killer.

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The Necklace by Matt Witten

The clock ticks down in a heart-pounding crusade for justice

Susan Lentigo’s daughter was murdered twenty years ago—and now, at long last, this small-town waitress sets out on a road trip all the way from Upstate New York to North Dakota to witness the killer’s execution.

On her journey she discovers shocking new evidence that leads her to suspect the condemned man is innocent—and the real killer is still free. Even worse, her prime suspect has a young daughter who’s at terrible risk. With no money and no time to spare, Susan sets out to uncover the truth before an innocent man gets executed and another little girl is killed.

But the FBI refuses to reopen the case. They—and Susan’s own mother—believe she’s just having an emotional breakdown. Reaching deep, Susan finds an inner strength she never knew she had. With the help of two unlikely allies—a cynical, defiant teenage girl and the retired cop who made the original arrest—Susan battles the FBI to put the real killer behind bars. Will she win justice for the condemned man—and her daughter—at last?

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The Auschwitz Photographer by Luca Crippa, Maurizio Onnis

The Nazis asked him to swear allegiance to Hitler, betraying his country, his friends, and everything he believed in.
He refused.

Poland, 1939. Professional photographer Wilhelm Brasse is deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and finds himself in a deadly race to survive, assigned to work as the camp’s intake photographer and take “identity pictures” of prisoners as they arrive by the trainload. Brasse soon discovers his photography skills are in demand from Nazi guards as well, who ask him to take personal portraits for them to send to their families and girlfriends. Behind the camera, Brasse is safe from the terrible fate that so many of his fellow prisoners meet. But over the course of five years, the horrifying scenes his lens capture, including inhumane medical “experiments” led by Josef Mengele, change Brasse forever.

Based on the true story of Wilhelm Brasse, The Auschwitz Photographer is a stark black-and-white reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. This gripping work of World War II narrative nonfiction takes readers behind the barbed wire fences of the world’s most feared concentration camp, bringing Brasse’s story to life as he clicks the shutter button thousands of times before ultimately joining the Resistance, defying the Nazis, and defiantly setting down his camera for good.

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The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat

The year is 1940, and the world is torn apart by war. In June of that year, Hitler’s army captures the Channel Islands—the only part of Great Britain occupied by German forces. Abandoned by Mr. Churchill, forgotten by the Allies and cut off from all help, the Islands’ situation is increasingly desperate.

Hedy Bercu is a young Jewish girl who fled Vienna for the island of Jersey two years earlier during the Anschluss, only to find herself trapped by the Nazis once more—this time with no escape. Her only hope is to make herself invaluable to the Germans by working as a translator, hiding in plain sight with the help of her friends and community—and a sympathetic German officer. But as the war intensifies, rations dwindle and neighbors are increasingly suspicious of one another. Hedy’s life is in greater danger every day. It will take a definitive, daring act to save her from certain deportation to the concentration camps.

A sweeping tale of bravery and love under impossible circumstances, Hedy’s remarkable story reminds us that it’s often up to ordinary people to be quiet heroes in the face of injustice.

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The Shadow Man by Helen Fields

He collects his victims. But he doesn’t keep them safe.

Elspeth, Meggy and Xavier are locked in a flat. They don’t know where they are, and they don’t know why they’re there. They only know that the shadow man has taken them, and he won’t let them go.

Desperate to escape, the three of them must find a way out of their living hell, even if it means uncovering a very dark truth.

Because the shadow man isn’t a nightmare. He’s all too real.

And he’s watching.

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The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.

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Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay

“They found the bodies on a Tuesday.”

So begins this twisty and breathtaking novel that traces the fate of the Pine family, a thriller that will both leave you on the edge of your seat and move you to tears.

After a late night of partying, NYU student Matt Pine returns to his dorm room to devastating news: nearly his entire family—his mom, his dad, his little brother and sister—have been found dead from an apparent gas leak while vacationing in Mexico. The local police claim it was an accident, but the FBI and State Department seem far less certain—and they won’t tell Matt why.

The tragedy makes headlines everywhere because this isn’t the first time the Pine family has been thrust into the media spotlight. Matt’s older brother, Danny—currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his teenage girlfriend Charlotte—was the subject of a viral true crime documentary suggesting that Danny was wrongfully convicted. Though the country has rallied behind Danny, Matt holds a secret about his brother that he’s never told anyone: the night Charlotte was killed Matt saw something that makes him believe his brother is guilty of the crime.

When Matt returns to his small hometown to bury his parents and siblings, he’s faced with a hostile community that was villainized by the documentary, a frenzied media, and memories he’d hoped to leave behind forever. Now, as the deaths in Mexico appear increasingly suspicious and connected to Danny’s case, Matt must unearth the truth behind the crime that sent his brother to prison—putting his own life in peril—and forcing him to confront his every last fear.

Told through multiple points-of-view and alternating between past and present, Alex Finlay’s Every Last Fear is not only a page-turning thriller, it’s also a poignant story about a family managing heartbreak and tragedy, and living through a fame they never wanted. 

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About Kristin Downer

Super Mom and Awesomely Nerdy Lady who can’t stand to sit still. I ran a successful online radio show that brought fans up close and personal with their favorite music, television and movie stars. Now, with my hilariously nerdy partners in crime, I have turned to my first love, BOOKS! A lover of books from a young age, I now always have a book on me no matter where I go. Books are my therapy. Twitter: @Kristin_Downer

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